Considering that I am a travel writer, I am terribly unorganized when it comes to planning ahead for my travels. I do briefly look at the main sights, know roughly where I want to go and what I want to see. I might even research some unusual sights and good restaurants, and especially a decent rooftop bar. But when it comes to booking anything concrete, I am useless. I hate being pinned down on a specific date and I’d rather take a chance.
So, over the years, I missed out on seeing the Last Supper painting in Milan and getting into the Pantheon in Rome, even when it was still free. I missed the wonderful Dior exhibition in Paris because I assumed I could just turn up, but luckily ended up catching it elsewhere. But the story of my winging it without buying tickets and booking ahead can fill a book, or at least a TravelAwaits article.
So here I have listed some of Europe’s best-loved sights and destinations that you might well miss out on if you do not think about when you will be there and then book ahead. If you are really keen on seeing something, don’t leave it until the last minute — take it from me.
1. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper
When I was in Milan this spring, I have to admit that for once, art wasn’t on the forefront of my mind. I was meeting a girlfriend I had not seen in years, and we just chatted, shopped, and ate and drank our way through local restaurants. But then, we thought we’d ought to inject a dash of culture and went to the Cenacolo Vinciano Museum to get tickets for Da Vinci’s Last Supper. I have to give it to the woman behind the counter, she kept her patience admirably without so much as grinning in our faces.
See, we had completely missed the boat by about 2 months. But to be fair, it had been a spur-of-the-moment trip, of sorts. So, if you have a trip to Milan somewhere on the horizon, keep checking the booking website, as only short periods are open for ticketing a certain number of weeks before. You can’t book too early, but certainly can’t leave it too late either.
For me, it was a case of “next time,” and we went to Da Vinci’s Vineyard instead, which was a rather pleasant surprise.
2. The Pantheon
Okay, so I knew I was going to Rome and that I wanted to see the ancient Pantheon. I was even hoping for rain on the day I would enter. That I might need to book ahead never once occurred to me, because then, it was still free to enter. And while the worst of the COVID pandemic was over, the fact that there might be timed entries never entered my head. So, when I turned up, full of expectation, I was sent packing. Despite having a whole week in Rome ahead of me, there was no entry ticket to be had. I was quite heartbroken.
Since July 3, 2023, there is now a cost for a ticket, unless you are under 18 years of age or a Roman resident. It is priced at a nominal 5 euro, or about $5.35, but at least that will remind you to book ahead, I hope.
3. Anne Frank’s House
Anne Frank’s House is one of Amsterdam’s most popular places to visit, right on Prinsengracht. More than a million annual visitors try to cram into the house, forcing the curators to put a cap on numbers and scheduling ticket sales. And when I say scheduling, I mean it. This is a highly organized undertaking: Every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. Central European Summer Time (CEST), the website releases tickets for visits 6 weeks in advance. So, do your math and know exactly when you want to go, and then find the nearest Tuesday 6 weeks prior in order to book a timeslot. Good luck!
The Alhambra in beautiful Granada offers a mixed bunch of booking options. There are parts of the palace and gardens that are free to enter, and yes, you can buy tickets on the day you visit, if they are not sold out, allowing some room for potential spontaneity. But, with this gorgeous Moorish palace being one of — if not the main — attractions of the region, it is better to plan ahead. You are allowed to book tickets 3 months in advance and can then opt for the ideal time slot, first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon, to allow for crowds to thin out.
Pro Tip: Please note that the tickets are specifically issued to a named person, so make sure you bring some ID with you when you go to verify it is your ticket.
5. Buckingham Palace
Considering that Buckingham Palace is a home and a working palace, it is a miracle that the public is allowed in at all. But for 10 weeks in summer, the doors — okay, some doors — open and you can marvel at the grandeur of the palace right in the heart of London. And even if the appeal of the British Royal Family has waned a little after the death of the much loved Queen Elizabeth II, there is still much interest in those few tickets. So, be prepared.
On the website, you can opt for email alerts as to when tickets become available and then raid your travel savings account for an exclusive — and royally priced — tour. Look out for the personal collection of Faberge eggs from the former queen; there are more here than in Moscow’s Kremlin.
6. Special Exhibitions And Louvre Museum
Booking a time slot for the Louvre, the world’s largest art museum and the most popular attraction in Paris, is a no-brainer. It gets incredibly busy and to book ahead means you can book a perfect time slot to suit your itinerary. But also remember to use the entry from the metro to jump the queue of this popular attraction.
But when in Paris, you will also notice that there are countless superb exhibitions going on all the time, ranging from art to fashion. As I mentioned before, despite living in Paris for 6 years, I still managed to miss a fair few exhibitions by simply not planning ahead, thinking I could just “pop in.” So, once you know your travel dates, search for current and upcoming exhibitions and book your tickets. It can break your heart if you see something you are really interested in, but find it sold out. The Parisians, and all the international visitors, love a good exhibition, so buy tickets fast.
The Reichstag in Berlin, Germany’s capital city, is a historic building that should be at the top of everybody’s to-do list when visiting. It not only offers a look at where Germany’s government sits but also an intriguing mix of historic and modern architecture, with the fabulous dome topping the Reichstag. The platform by the dome offers you views across the entirety of Berlin past the city to the many forests surrounding it. But, as this is a working government seat, you need to jump through a few hoops to get to it.
On the official website, you need to register your intention of visiting. You can also book a guided tour but need to do that for the current and following 2 months, no further in advance. You can only book for the following year after the registrations open in November of the current year. Entry to the dome is free, but you need to receive your official confirmation of registration before you go. Simply registering your interest is not enough. German bureaucracy is infamous, so be patient. Trust that the system does work.